Prof Watt joins call for diabetes education

Research gains combined with greater education and awareness needed to help slow the rate of disease.

Knowing how to prevent diabetes is key to helping reduce the burden of the illness, says Professor Matthew Watt, Head of the Department of Anatomy and Physiology and metabolism and diabetes expert.

“Researchers are working to improve the lives of 1.8 million Australians living with diabetes, however greater education about how to stop type 2 diabetes from developing in the first place is a critical step for protecting future generations,” he says.

Monday 14 November is the International Diabetes Federation’s World Diabetes Day. With diabetes affecting one in 10 adults globally, this year’s theme is ‘education to protect tomorrow’.

“Type 1 diabetes cannot be prevented or delayed, but evidence shows type 2 diabetes can be in many cases by maintaining a healthy weight, being physically active and following a healthy eating plan,” says Prof Watt.

For those who are diagnosed – one person contracts the disease every five minutes – the Watt laboratory: Metabolism and Diabetes is leading an innovative research program that seek to identify how defects of lipid metabolism and inter-tissue communication cause obesity-related disorders, including type 2 diabetes and fatty liver disease.

His research published in Science Translational Medicine found that a SMOC1 protein – naturally produced by the liver – can decrease blood glucose levels. This means an engineered form of SMOC1 could potentially treat people with type 2 diabetes.

The School of Biomedical Sciences, through the Dodd laboratory: Metabolic Neuroscience, is also spearheading research that explores how the brain controls metabolism and what goes wrong in metabolic diseases such as obesity and diabetes.

Using cutting-edge technologies and innovative in vivo models, the lab is on a mission to uncover the brain mechanisms underlying obesity and type 2 diabetes to define novel treatments for metabolic disease. Lab head Dr Garron Dodd received a 2022 Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences Dean’s Innovation Grant in September to develop a novel approach for treating metabolic diseases.

One area of research the Fletcher laboratory: Visual neuroscience is interested in is the role of glia and microglia in retinal diseases such as Diabetic Retinopathy (DR).

DR is a common complication associated with diabetes and is the leading cause of blindness in those under 65 years of age. Some 10 per cent of all diabetics experience vision threatening retinopathy. One of the major reasons for vision loss is the growth of new blood vessels in the retina (neovascularization).

Professor Erica Fletcher’s lab is working to understand changes in the retina that lead to neovascularization and examine whether novel treatments prevent or slow vision loss.

Earlier this year, the University of Melbourne also launched the Australian Centre for Accelerating Diabetes Innovations (ACADI).

Backed by MRFF funding and MTPConnect, ACADI is progressing 18 research projects addressing diabetic kidney disease, peripheral neuropathy and diabetic foot syndrome, short-term complications of hypoglycaemia, hyperglycaemic hyperosmolar syndrome (HHS) and ketoacidosis.

Researchers hope with greater awareness about how to prevent and manage diabetes, combined with research gains into how to treat diabetes and it’s complications, the impact of the illness will lessen in the years to come.

The ACADI Annual Partnering Summit is on World Diabetes Day, 14 November. Reserve a spot for a day of learning and inspiration on diabetes research, co-design and research translation.

Register today